With their current five-year contract set to expire in July and negotiations for a new one to start in April, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters is preparing its members for a possible strike against United Parcel Service this summer.

The large increase in deliveries during the pandemic netted the company record profits – its revenue was up eleven percent for each year of the pandemic – hitting a record high last year. It is the second largest ground carrier in the country, delivering some twenty million packages a day, behind only the US Postal Service. About six percent of the US Gross Domestic Product goes via UPS, which employs about 385,000 workers who are Teamster Union members.

Among the issues at stake, aside from salary increases in the face of the huge increase in company profits, have been a rising anger among its workers over layoffs and displacement of workers, cutting hours and splitting shifts. Many workers accustomed to working eight hour shifts are now ordered to work a split shift, four hours in the morning and four hours at night, disrupting an entire day and wreaking havoc with their family lives.

“UPS is trying to piss everyone in this room off,” declared Vincent Perrone, president of Local 804, at a recent meeting of hundreds of the local’s members. Local 804 represents the company’s workers in the New York metropolitan area.” Every year they try to scare and intimidate us,” he said.

If indeed a strike does come off, it will be one with the largest magnitude in a long time.

Jacobin, 2/21

The US Supreme Court is scheduled hand down a decision in April that may severely curtail labor unions’ most important weapon – the right to strike. The unions are nervously sitting on edge for the outcome of the case, which was argued before the court on January 10.

The case involves Glacier Northwest, Inc., a Washington State-based company that supplies mixed concrete to construction projects. In the face of delays by the company in negotiating a new contract in 2017, drivers represented by Local 174 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters went out on strike. Although they took care not to destroy the mixed concrete in their trucks by returning the trucks to company property and keeping them running, much of the cement hardened and became unusable.

The company sued the union for damages to its property. Labor law in cases like this has held that it could only apply if there was willful destruction of property. And the law also provides that complaints like this are handled by the National Labor Relations Board, Acting under the law, the Washington State Supreme Court dismissed the case because it falls under the purview of the NLRB, which later sided with the union. Glacier Northwest has appealed the case to the US Supreme Court, arguing that federal law does not cover cases like this.

Unions are very worried for a number of reasons. A strike, any strike, is meant to put economic pressure on employers. That’s the purpose of a strike. If a union can be sued for economic losses by a company when it strikes, it severely limits the union’s right to strike and sharply reduces its bargaining power. “Who’s going to go on strike when you know that if your strike is successful, you’ll be sued?” observed one labor analyst.

A relevant concern is the current ultra-right makeup of the Supreme Court, which has decided for companies over unions and workers in most cases involving labor disputes.

Following arguments at the Supreme Court on January 10, Teamster President Sean O’Brien declared: “Workers in America have the fundamental right to strike, and American workers have died on picket lines to protect it. The ability to withhold your labor is the one powerful tool throughout the history of unionization that has ensured workers can improve their working conditions.

“This right is now on trial at the Supreme Court. The anti-worker case before the Court is undemocratic and disregards long-standing legal precedent. It is about corporations using the legal system to try to deny workers their inherent power. Regardless of the outcome, Corporate America will fail in such pursuits because American workers will never be broken.

“For both the American worker and our entire country, the Supreme Court must affirm the lower court’s ruling that the legality of the strike falls exclusively within the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board.

“The right of workers to strike must be preserved and protected.”

Politico, 1/9, Teamsters Union website, 1/10

The efforts by New York City Mayor Eric Adamas and the heads of municipal unions in the Municipal Labor Council to push retirees out of Medicare and into a cheaper Medicare Advantage plan have led to a stalemate that is stonewalling negotiations on a new labor contract for 300,000 unionized city workers. Under the proposed retiree health care plan, negotiated in secret over a period of several years, the city paid for raises in the contracts of current workers at the expense of expected savings in retiree health costs. The Medicare Advantage plan would charge a monthly fee for those who choose to retain their existing Medicare coverage.

When the proposed changes were revealed last year there was an immediate reaction from retirees across the city that grew louder as more and more heard about it. Chief among their concerns were the facts that (1) while some 80 to 90 percent of doctors in the United States take Medicare, under the private insurance plan, patients are restricted to the panel of doctors that participate in the plan, and (2) many medical procedures under private insurance require pre-approval and are often denied, requiring the patient to bear the expense, which can be great, out of pocket. They can appeal the decision to the company, which is also often denied, but even if approved, the delay can lead to serious consequences for the patient.

The massive opposition from retirees has stalled the proposal. Opposition was also growing among current city employees who will someday be retirees and who also fear that their health care could be threatened by future actions to save money. In a lawsuit brought by retirees, the court held for the plaintiffs and threw out the plan on the grounds that it violated  a provision of the City Charter. The city has tried to amend the Charter but at a hearing of the City Council Labor Committee in January, retirees and their representatives loudly expressed their opposition and a number of the committee members also indicated their opposition. Several units of the unions in the MLC also have publicly opposed the plan as well as the Professional Staff Congress, representing faculties at the colleges in the city university system. The New York Daily News reported earlier this month that the proposal to amend the City Charter was dead.

That leaves 300,000 city workers without a new contract since the mayor has refused to consider any alternate way of raising the money to pay for raises and improvements for teachers and other city employees. And there are alternatives like tapping into the general reserves or the $3.4 billion Temporary Benefits Trust. Other alternatives would be to reinstate the Stock Transfer Tax, a tax on stock market sales that was in force for many years before it was ended by the Koch administration some 40 years ago.

For the present, as one teacher put it, “I think we could be without a contract for a very long time.”

The City, 2’/12

The month of February, the month of the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, is recognized as Black History Month. It was initially proclaimed by the distinguished Black historian, Carter G. Woodson in 1926 as a counter to the omission or often racist portrayal of African Americans in the standard works on American history and school curricula. In recent years, scholars have been correcting that history, portraying the history of slavery and Reconstruction in a much more accurate light and paying attention to the great contributions Black people have made to our development as a nation. It is fitting that we celebrate Black History Month today in the face of efforts by reactionary politicians (who are also no friends of unions and working people) to push the clock back on the teaching of this history. It is also fitting that we, as a website devoted to the cause of labor, note the contributions of African Americans to the building of the labor movement and the important role they play in it today.

Although there were numerous actions by Black workers and tenant farmers in the South during the 19th century, their incorporation into the industrial work force really began with the Great Migration of the early 20th century when about a million Blacks fled the Jim Crow South to seek greater opportunity in the rising factories in Northern states. It was still an uphill battle. The early unions did not welcome them. The conservative AFL craft unions largely refused them membership, which meant they were excluded from higher paying jobs and union-negotiated benefits. Particularly notorious was the Plumbers Union, headed in later years by George Meany, who subsequently headed the AFL-CIO in the 1950’s and 60’s The union was notorious for limiting membership so that it became an inside joke that in order to get in, you needed a wrench, a white skin and a father who was a member.

The big change came with the organization of the CIO in the 1930’s, committed to unionizing all workers in industrial plants into large union locals, irrespective of their race, ethnicity, or their jobs in the plant. Black workers played important roles in building the three largest CIO unions – the United Auto Workers, the United Steel Workers, and the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers as well as many other unions. And they have provided leadership in the union movement, from A. Philip Randolph, who headed the largely Black union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, to Fred Redmond, a former vice-president of the United Steel Workers and now secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO.

We salute the contributions that African Americans have made to the labor movement and to the nation as a whole.

After several days on strike, nurses at two hospitals in Nw York City went back to work January 12 after the hospitals agreed to the nurses’ demands to hire more nurses to relieve the understaffing. The strike was less about pay (the two sides had already agreed to a 19.1 pay raise over three years) and more about the chronic nurse understaffing at hospitals that has resulted in higher income for hospitals at the expense of impossible work loads for nurses and sharply reduced care for their patients. Seven thousand nurses at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx had gone out on strike January 8 after talks with the hospital management broke down. The nurses are members of the New York State Nurses Association, their elected union bargaining agent.

They joined thousands more nurses from around the country who are resorting to labor actions to overcome what has become standard practice for hospitals – not hiring enough nurses to adequately perform patient care, causing very difficult working conditions. ” We are not out here for wages,” said Lorena Vivas, a nurse  for 19 years, on the picket line. “We are out here because we want patient safety.” Joining them for a while on the picket line were New York State Attorney General Letitia James and Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine.

The union said that the two hospitals have failed to fill some 1,200 nursing positions. ” Our No. 1 issuer is a crisis of staffing,” Nurses Association President Nancy Hagans declared. “It is an issue that our employers have ignored.”

Under the tentative agreement, which still has to be ratified by the union membership, in addition to the salary increase, the hospitals agreed to a nurse-to-patient ratio with an enforcement mechanism. As of this writing, the exact ratio has not been made public. The hospital committed itself to create new programs for outreach and incentives to attract more nurses. Other details 0f the proposed contract remain hazy.

Hospitals refusing to hire an adequate number of nurses existed even before the Covid pandemic but the disease only made it far worse. It has resulted in nurses leaving the profession in droves around the country, sharply exacerbating the problem. The union says that at Mount Sinai, emergency room nurses have to care for up to 18 patients at a time. Nurses at Montefiore claim the same situation exists there. Existing staff-to-patient ratios are not enforced.

The situation has grown with the increased corporatization of hospitals. While technically non-profit, hospitals have increasingly behaved like profit-making corporations. At the end of September 2022, Montefiore was sitting on $1.3 billion in cash and investments, while Mount Sinai had $2.6 billion at the end of 2020. They have massive Wall Street and foreign investments with enormous profits and hefty executive compensation packages.

Tax filings for 2020 show that Montefiore invested  $199 million in “limited partnerships” like madge funds and private equity. Mount Sinai reported $68 million in investments in “Central America and the Caribbean,” which typically are in tax shelters like the Cayman Islands.

They also sport huge executive salaries. Mount Sinai CEO Kenneth Davis made $5.6 million in 2019, the last year for which complete tax records are available.  Montefiore CEO Philip Ozuah made $7.4 million in 2020.. Montefiore provided an unnamed executive (or executives) with a chauffeur and first-class airfare in 2020.

In filings with the IRS, Mount Sinai disclosed that 15 executives made more than $1 million annually in 2019. Ten executives at Montefiore each made more tan $1.5 million in 2020.

Meanwhile, as executive compensation and profits soared, charity care at Mount Sinai has been reduced by nearly half as a percentage of its total expenses over the past decade.. Charity care provides free or discounted care to those in poverty, a key justification for the massive tax breaks nonprofit hospitals receive. Montefiore registered a  23 percent reduction in charity care spending as a percentage of expenses during the same period.

Against this record of massive profits and huge executive compensation packages, the demands of the nurses pale by comparison.

NY  Times, 1/9; The Lever, 1//10; NY Times, print edition, 1/13

NYC municipal retirees march down Broadway this week protesting the city’s ongoing campaign to push them into a for-profit, privatized Medicare Advantage plan. Photos by Joe Maniscalco

By Joe Maniscalco

New York City Mayor Eric Adams and the heads of the Municipal Labor Committee [MLC] can expect to catch a lot more hell from municipal retirees refusing to be pushed into a for-profit, privatized, Medicare Advantage plan.

Roughly one-hundred determined retirees, some of them 80-plus, rallied outside the UFT headquarters at 52 Broadway on Wednesday afternoon before marching onto the MLC offices at 55 Water Street.

“I want to keep the Medicare Senior Care I have now,” 74-year-old DC 37 retiree Aurea A. Mangual told Work-Bites. “I fear I’m not gonna be covered for the Medicare benefits that I have — and these [insurance] people are going to be denying me like they deny other people. If I need an MRI, if I need an echo cardiogram — they’re gonna start denying me, and by the time they approve it — it may be too late for me.”

Mangual recently spent 10 days in the hospital after suffering a heart attack. She spent another nine days hospitalized after complications from a certain medication caused unexpected bleeding and required a blood transfusion.

“I’m due for another surgery,” Mangual said. “I was never sick before, but now I’m starting to feel old, I guess. Everything is falling down, and even though I try to take care of my health, if it runs in the family, things happen.”

Dr. Donald E. Moore is an attending physician at NY Methodist Hospital, as well as a teacher at Weill Cornell Medical College, NYU and Hunter College. He is also board member of the New York Metro chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program.

On Wednesday, he told retirees they can expect to lose portability, access and choice if the Adams administration and the heads of the MLC are successful in pushing them into a for-profit, privatized Medicare Advantage plan.

“There’s so many plans — hundreds of those Part C plans, which means every doctor can’t be in every plan,” Dr. Moore said. “You may find one of your doctors in a plan. But the doctor [your other] doctor wants to refer you to, or you want to go to, will not be in your plan.”

“Fragmenting” traditional Medicare, Dr. Moore added, will only end up costing municipal retirees more money they can ill afford on limited incomes.

More than a year fighting against Medicare Advantage in the courts and on the streets has left many municipal retirees wondering who the heads of the MLC — UFT President Michael Mulgrew, DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido and Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association President Harry Nespoli — actually represent.

“We need to let Michael Mulgrew know he is representing us — not Mayor Adams and his desire to save on healthcare costs,” Cross-Union Retirees Organizing Committee [CROC] organizer Sarah Shapiro told the rally. “I think Mike Mulgrew has lost his way; he’s not quite sure what his role is. Is he representing us and the in-service workers — or is he working behind closed doors with Mayor Adams — the so-called arbitrator Martin Sheinman, who has absolutely no jurisdiction over any of this right at this moment — and Henry Garrido and Harry Nespoli.”

Work-Bites reached out to the heads of the MLC for comment, but has not received a response.

“What we really need after a year of bitter fighting about this — is a time-out,” fellow CROC member Martha Cameron said this week.

The organization — one of a large group of New York City retiree organizations fighting to maintain their traditional Medicare coverage — supports a proposal to utilize a half-billion-dollars over the next two years from the city’s Retiree Health Benefits Trust to shore up the ailing Health Insurance Stabilization Fund — from which roughly $1 billion was diverted during the Bill de Blasio era to help pay for UFT raises.

With the Health Stabilization Fund replenished, retirees say the city can then pursue real cost-cutting measures that don’t involve throwing municipal workers under the bus. Those measures include:

*Setting up a municipal self-insurance plan for all active workers, retirees and their dependents.

*Requiring lower costs from private hospitals.

*Consolidating union welfare fund drug plans to better negotiate lower rates for all.

*Auditing current insurance providers for fraud and waste.

*Clamping down on bad insurance management and inefficiencies.

“These are just some of the ways that we can make a longterm solution to these rising healthcare costs,” Cameron continued. “If we go with the plan the MLC and the city are currently fighting for — we do not solve the issue of the Stabilization Fund being used as a slush fund.”

Despite her health challenges, Mangual remains Associate Vice-President for Inter-Union Relations at the DC 37 Retirees Association.

On Wednesday, she reiterated a call made at an earlier DC Retirees Association meeting for members to stop donating to the group’s political action committee.

“Do not give them any more money,” she said, “because we don’t want them to use our money to help political people coming up, while they are hurting the retirees and [active] members.

A tentative agreement between two unions and the University of California may end the largest strike in the history of higher education, although the agreement must still be ratified by the unions’ membership. The vote taking place the week of Dec. 19 involves 48,000 teaching assistants and other graduate school workers – members of two unions affiliated with the United Auto Workers – who walked off the job Nov. 14. It had the support of most of the faculty and undergraduate students at the university’s campuses around the state.

Union leaders who were involved in the bargaining and the University of California officials hailed the agreement but some rank-and-file leaders were critical, which casts some doubt on its ratification. Under the proposed agreement the  lowest paid academic student employees, whose starting salary is $23,000, will get substantial pay raises of up to 55 percent over the next two and half years. There will also be increased health care and child care benefits.

The university of California relies heavily on graduate student workers in doing important lab research, grading papers, and providing instruction. California Governor Gavin Newsom expressed relief at the proposed pact.  A state budget agreement this year guaranteed funding increases for the university system for the next five years which, Newsom said, should pay for the cost of the new contracts without a tuition increase for students.

The pact has nation-wide implications. Graduate student workers are organizing into unions around the country, reacting to the fact that American universities have increasingly come to rely on graduate students to teach classes and handle other duties traditionally done by tenured faculty, with only a fraction of the pay and benefits. This yea alone graduate student employees at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Clark University, Fordham University, New Mexico State University, Washington State University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute all voted in favor of unionization.

The proposed contract has raised some opposition among union members who plan to vote “no” on it. While Rafael Jaime, president of one of the two UAW bargaining units involved in the negotiations, touted Friday’s agreement as a “historic” win, opponents of the pact urged its rejection. Their principal criticism is that the wage benefits won’t fully take place until the latter part of 2024 and would do little for academic workers living in high rent areas like Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area where many UC campuses are located. They charge that the contract abandoned the key demand to link wage gains and housing costs.

The vote ratification process will end Dec. 23.

NY Times, 12/16; Los Angeles Times, 12/16

Striking workers at HarperCollins, one of the nations largest publishers, got a big boost in early December from over 500 leading authors. In a letter to the company, they expressed strong support for the workers in the editorial, marketing, design, and other departments who have been out on strike since Nov. 10.

Signers of the letter include Barbara Kingsolver, Jacqueline Woodson, Kwame Alexander, and others including HarperCollins own authors and those associated with other publishers. “We stand with the people who mold and champion our work and ask that they be compensated justly and fairly for their labor,” the authors wrote. “We express deep concern about the long-term impact on our books and careers if the strike continues. Your refusal to reach an agreement with the union hurts us, your creators.” They vowed not to submit their work to HarperCollins until it reaches an agreement with the union.

The workers are demanding better pay, stronger union protections, and better family leave policies.

NPR, 12/8

In response to the attack on her and teachers unions, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten responded forcefully to the slander by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that she, not any of the world’s dictators is “the most dangerous person in the world.” In an interview with Semafor, Pompeo claimed that teachers’ unions are the most dangerous because “the filth they they’re teaching out kids, and the fact that they don’t know math and reading or writing.”

“We fight for what kids and communities need,” Weingarten responded. In contrast with Pompeo who ran errands for Trump, pleasing dictators around the world, she said, her union fights for schools “that are safe and welcoming where kids learn how to think and work with others” and “against this kind of rhetoric and hate. Maybe spend a minute in one of the classrooms with my members and their students and you will get a real lesson in the promise and potential of America.”

Pompeo’s attack is another shot in the right-wing assault on public schools, teachers’ unions and inclusive curriculum. Across the country, they are campaigning to impose broad censorship of curriculum and books that do not reflect their view of the world and attacking teachers and school employees who do not reflect their thinking.

Common Dreams, 11/22

Four days after he pushed  a law through the Ontario legislature outlawing labor’s right to strike, the governor was forced to announce its repeal. The humiliating retreat by the governor, Doug Ford was the result of a general strike call announced by the Canadian province’s labor movement set to begin Nov. 14.

Ford had rammed through the law in the face of stalled negotiations with the union which represents school employees other than teachers – education assistants, library workers, administrative assistants, custodians, early childhood educators, cafeteria workers, safety monitors, and social workers. In October after  months of fruitless talks, the union, the Ontario School Board Council of Unions, voted 96.5 percent in favor of a strike. The strike took place anyway, amid threats that it was illegal and the unionbusting law would be enforced.

In response, the threat of a general strike against the law spread through the province rapidly as people rallied to the side of the union. Thousands joined the pickets Members of other unions were calling on their unions to join the strike. A committee was formed to plan a general strike. And finally Ford collapsed. He announced that the law would be repealed.

What a lesson in worker solidarity.

Labor Notes, 11/1